Integrated policy problems call for integrated analysis. However, micro and macro approaches imply differences of perspective that conventionally have not been easy to unify. This paper introduces agent-based modelling (ABM) as one potentially useful tool for linking these aspects. ABM describes the system at the level of the social actors within it – that is, the individual entities, each with their own goals, values, rules, information, knowledge, strategies and social context. By doing this, ABM can help address the complexity of modern policy problems, particularly when used alongside other methods.

The purpose of this paper is to explain ABM and its applications, to help model users determine whether this approach could be useful in their own work. Motivated by the observation that there is inadequate briefing material on the method, the authors explain ABM and then address four of the most common questions raised when appraising it for research on sustainable development.

They draw on examples of SEI research using ABM for generating insights into a range of policy problems: the climate resilience of agroforestry livelihoods in Cameroon, energy policy and biofuels in Malaysia, sustainable livelihoods in small-scale fisheries in Kenya, and natural hazard disaster preparedness. By linking the example studies to the common questions, they further illustrate key lessons and findings in order to better inform readers.


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